If you know me or have read this blog, you know that I am a huge fan of Alentejo wines, after my first visit to the region last fall. It’s a hot, arid place with perfect conditions for growing grapes that make zesty white wines that are a welcome change from Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Piont Grigio and the other “usual suspects.” When offered samples recently, how could I say no? I love trying new wines and I’ve got some new go-to faves in here.
Plus – I think I’ve shared travel tips with at least a dozen people headed to Portugal for vacation this summer and fall. So if you’re going, listen up. And if you’re not – don’t worry – you can have your own adventure in a glass by seeking out these wines to drink at home!
The bottom line here is this: If you like dry white wines, you’re going to find something to love here. If you’re married to big, buttery, oaky Cali Chards, these may not all be your style, and that’s ok. But if you like Sauv Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, Vermentino, or white Bordeaux blends (which as Sauv Blanc-based), I promise you’ll – you’ll like these wines. Also, they are affordalicious, priced at about $15- $40!
What are the grapes? There are five to know:
Antão Vaz (“ando-vaaj) is perfumed and full-bodied with tropical fruit and almond notes. Single varietals of Antão Vaz that have been barrel-aged will indeed remind you a bit of Chardonnay!
Arinto is the acid queen of Alentejo, packed with green apple and lemon and lime goodness (the workhorse grape up in Vinho Verde, too).
Fernão Pires (“fernow piresh”) is super aromatic with a bit of pepperiness and then a tide of citrus fruits and florals
Roupeiro is another fragrant grape with a subtle honey character layered beneath orange and lemon, peach and melon notes.
Verdelho (vur-day-yo) is a high-alcohol, high-acid bomb that is very aromatic (honeysuckle city!), heaving with nectarine, lemon-lime and grapefruit flavors. It’s full-bodied and very ageable. Note: this it NOT the same as Verdejo, the Spanish white grape.
Rocim Mariana Branco 2020 ($16) Here we have 60% Antão Vaz, 30% Arinto and 10% Alvarinho, making for a lush, tropical fruit flood of pineapple, papaya, mango and lime. It’s got zesty acidity – almost tart, but not quite – a refreshing sip! (No oak).
Marques de Borba Branco 2021 ($15) This sexy delight is 70% Arinto, 15% Antão Vaz and 15% Viognier – wha? Yes – what a cool blend (I luuuuuv Viognier … it’s like Chard’s peachier cousin). Light-bodied, no oak, fresh, bright and full of energetic sunshine. I love it!
Adega Redondo Porta da Ravessa 2020 ($15) A crisp, refreshing wine bursting with tropical fruits like guava and passion fruit, with some lime zest. No oak on this, it’s light-bodied and zippy!
Esporão White 2021 ($18) Well, I luuuuv the wines from Esporão. I’ve had quite a few of them (they are widely available in the U.S.) and they are just very thoughtfully made and well-balanced wines, every single time. This beauty is a blend of Antão Vaz, Viosinho, Alvarinho, Vermentino and a few mystery grapes (you know, a lady never tells all her secrets!) It’s a cavalcade of green apple, pear, Lemon Heads hard candies (but it’s not sweet). It’s got some weight to it because – while there is no oak on this wine – it does spend some time on its lees (the spent yeast cells), which lends a very appealing creaminess.
Adega de Portalegre Conventual DOC White Reserva ($25) We’re going uptown now, with a blend of Arinto, Fernão Pires, Siria and Bical. I immediately got a delightful whiff of beeswax, followed by honey, tangerine, lime – it’s really unique. I shared this with my 23-year old neighbor and he loved it as much as I did!
Torre de Palma Vinho Arinto Alvarinho 2021 ($40) Well, now we’re in fancy land. This stunner is a blend of just two grapes – Arinto and Alvarinho – and it screams “elegance.” Lime and pineapple pop out of the glass, followed by some melon, all brought into balance with very nice acidity. This is one to savor with a meal – maybe like my friend Jane’s butter-poached shrimp and summer corn over at Always Ravenous (the recipe is easy and a winner every time).
I hope you have your own Alentejo adventure. Let me know if you find your own new favorite. Cheers!